Zoom has become the video conferencing tool of choice for millions of people around the world in recent months with huge numbers of people working remotely for the first time and social interactions being limited by distancing and lockdown measures as a result of the covid-19 pandemic.

If you’re reading this, the chances are you already use Zoom but are keen to make the most of the experience. Whether you mainly use the tool for work or keeping in touch with friends and family, there are several ways you can use Zoom (without paying for it) that will take your meetings to the next level and help you zoom like a pro.

1. Schedule your calls

Zoom has a powerful scheduling feature that will enable you to share the link and details when planning your meeting. Think of it as the equivalent of confirming the location of a physical meeting in advance of the day itself. Making sure your clients or colleagues know where to go shows good organisation and consideration. In the same way, providing the details of a virtual meeting using the scheduling tool means everybody has the link well in advance and you don’t have to worry about setting it up at the last minute.

Try working this process into your meeting planning routine so that the Zoom information can be circulated alongside any other materials such as an agenda or pre-reads for the session. The call can be linked to iCal or Google Calendar and you can also set up recurring meetings which will save you time in setting up a new call for your regular weekly catch ups.

2. Mute, mute, mute

If you’ve been using Zoom regularly in the last few months, you’ve almost certainly experienced people speaking over each other during a virtual meeting, causing complete chaos and confusion. This can easily be avoided with some good Zoom etiquette and established conventions. For meetings of 10 or more people, it is almost always going to be best for anybody not speaking to be on mute. Attendees can do this themselves, but meeting hosts can – and should – do this themselves. When scheduling your meeting, tick the ‘Mute participants upon entry’ box.

3. Using emojis

With the majority of attendees muted, there are other ways for people to communicate quickly and clearly without disrupting the flow of the meeting. Use the inbuilt ‘thumbs up’ or ‘clapping’ emojis to get quick ‘show of hands’ responses to general questions or canvasing of opinion. You can also encourage attendees to use the ‘raise hand’ icon when muted to let the meeting host know that they would like to contribute to the conversation. Again, think of these as equivalent to the types of non-verbal communication that would happen naturally in a physical meeting.

4. Using the chatroom

If you’re hosting a large event or a panel discussion, you may want to encourage participants to engage with each other, comment and share resources in the chat. If attendees are invited to ask questions in the chat, it’s important to have somebody monitoring it to pass on questions to the host. However, the chat can also be a distraction from the main conversation and you may wish to limit attendees’ use of it. Setting ground rules for use of the chat feature before the call is easy: for example, you may only wish people to use it to share links to relevant information.

5. Sharing your screen

Zoom has a particularly powerful screen sharing feature, allowing you to pick specific windows to share along with more general access to share your entire desktop. It’s worth practicing this before you use it for the first time to avoid any embarrassing overshares. If you’re planning to share your screen, it’s generally advisable to close any windows or programmes that aren’t relevant to your meeting. You can also use built-in ‘do not disturb’ features on your computer: this is called ‘Focus Assist’ in Windows and for Mac users you might want to consider using a tool such as Muzzle. Using these tools will prevent notifications from showing up on your screen whilst sharing it with others. This can protect you from sharing private and personal information or communications.

6. Whiteboards

Shaking up the visuals in any meeting is going to help increase engagement of attendees. The same is definitely true – arguably more so – in the virtual meeting setting where things can feel distanced and frankly boring, especially when you’ve got back-to-back Zoom calls. Using the whiteboard feature is going to bring variety and a bit of fun to your meeting, whether it’s for a shared brainstorming session or an afterwork game of pictionary or hangman.

7. Get a change of scene

Virtual backgrounds is one of the best features of Zoom and has been incorporated into Microsoft Teams and Skype recently. Whilst virtual backgrounds can be used to inject a bit of humor into a meeting, this can also be distracting. Experiment with different types of background to find out how zoom virtual background images can help you vary the visual experience of your meetings. For example, you might allocate everybody the same meeting room background to help build a sense of focus and create the illusion of being in a shared physical space. The feature offers opportunities that go beyond the comic and is worth exploring to suit your specific needs.

8. Master the shortcuts

Like most pieces of software that involve a user interface, Zoom has an extensive set of keyboard shortcuts to explore. On a day to day basis, the most useful one to know about is using the spacebar to temporarily unmute yourself. This is far easier than using your mouse to turn of mute and is great for quick contributions or questions.

9. Lockdown your meetings

Finally, considering the security of your meetings is important in order to avoid unwanted attendees. The obvious thing to avoid is sharing your meeting link publicly. You should also use the waiting room feature to check everybody who turns up is who you’re expecting or on an invite list. You can also limit attendees to particular email address domains: this can be useful for companies or educational institutions.

The host can also prevent attendees from sharing their screens and lock the meeting once it has started. These preventative measures should significantly reduce the changes or a Zoom hijacker from turning up at your next team meeting.

About the author

Mark Coleman

Mark Coleman is the editor at MarkupTrend. He is also a technical writer and digital marketing expert. He handles all marketing, advertisement related activities at MarkupTrend along with his team.